Changing our careers with the Content Design Academy
This guest blog post is written by Anna Kruse, Rob Ingram and Sandra Valencia. They are all students of our Content Design Academy course and here are some reflections of what they've learnt along the way.
When you’re new to content design, you don’t have to throw all your old skills out of the window. You might find that you’ve done some elements of content design already.
Similarly, you’ll probably find that the way you look at online information changes and with that, your writing career will take a different direction.
How practising educational design has made me a better content designer
One thing I’ve realised by being part of Content Design London's Academy and its content design-related Slack communities? There are a lot of people coming to the realisation that their work IS content design, just without the formal name. I’m one of them.
I recently discovered a note I had jotted down a few years ago as I tried to articulate what I was doing increasingly often at work. I wasn’t able to put a name to it (yet!): “Working closely with visual designers, often writing copy.”
I’ve been working at a teaching innovation centre for 12 years now. As I learn more about content design, I find the overlap with learning design to be striking. Transferable skills are plenty! Here are a few parallels I’ve noticed:
Learning design and content design’s goal is to get the person going through the experience exactly what they need to move forward.
Learning design is objective-driven and based on learner needs. We start with research (like content discovery), identify learning goals (like user needs), describe how students can show us they have met those goals (like acceptance criteria), and craft the learning experience to bring students toward mastery of those goals.
Immersing yourself in any subject
Learning designers, like content designers, are ready to learn quickly about any subject.
I might, for example, be juggling work on courses covering such diverse topics as valuation strategies, personalised medicine, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and randomised control trials.
There is so much practical wisdom to be found in the content design toolkit, and I wish I’d discovered it sooner. Methods and frameworks like the ones we’re learning in the Academy are a goldmine. Especially those looking to formally transition into the field. But they also have a lot to offer many of us working in adjacent domains right now.
How copywriting made me a better content designer
When I introduced myself to fellow participants at the Content Design Academy, I explained that when I learnt about content design, I felt intuitively connected to it. Looking back, I realised that I had been carrying out elements of content design in my roles without knowing it.
A major concept of content design is plain English, which helps to reduce cognitive load. I am a content creator who writes for a wide range of users, who may not have English as a first language. I instinctively avoid figures of speech and jargon, which lead to complex and exclusive copy.
Translating badly written content
My job often requires me to either translate badly written copy into user friendly text, or research niche fields and then transform and rearrange my findings into usable content.
The other side to plain English is brevity, which again has always been a key consideration when I create content. The user interfaces I have worked on have been constricted up to blocks of copy as small as 45 characters.
These restrictions emphasise a careful consideration of word choice, which words provide the most meaning and narrative for the user? My goal is to supply the words that meet their needs the most.
Using a consistent tone of voice
The iterative nature of creating content for episodes within a series or for pieces of content tagged to a certain channel or client, means that I naturally create a consistent tone of voice within a contained piece of content.
Creating tone of voice guidelines for different clients required me to explore user needs. What information do they need and how do they need it to be communicated?
All of these tasks were learned outside of content design, but gave me a grounding in understanding and executing its main principles.
Content Design vs. Copywriting
In advertising, we are often told as writers to make our headlines “catchier” or “craft it up”. After our first session, it was clear I had to unlearn that habit for good. Especially for the user. Here are some examples to understand the difference:
- Focuses on business needs.
- Gravitates to more content.
- Demands trust through product quality.
- Focuses on user needs.
- Strives for smarter content.
- Gains trust from content quality.
What I’ve learned so far
For writers in any field, a user needs-led approach is becoming more and more important. They help us define our content solutions.
Good research can be desk research
Often, we might find ourselves in small teams, low budget, or research-unfriendly situations. But that doesn’t prevent us from doing our desk research using online tools, like my favourite, Answer the Public. It’s also useful to keep in mind, quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. But quality can come from planning ahead.
If you feel a sense of panic, you’re on the right track
A mantra to repeat throughout the course. What seems like a vast post-it wall, slowly clears up and gives you more confidence in your writing than jumping in from the start — something I might have done starting from a product brief.
Content design is the way to go if you:
- want to learn how to integrate a user focused approach into your work,
- want to build your research skills,
- want to complement or change your writing career,
- are interested in learning about user journeys, user needs, or job stories,
- are ok with feeling a slight sense of panic.
You may want to try a different option if you:
- want to learn how to design beyond sketching,
- are not comfortable working in a team or speaking openly,
- want to learn in-depth research techniques.